By Carter B. Horsley
This day sale of Contemporary
Art at Sotheby's has many excellent examples of major artists
and is surprisingly strong given the continuing financial crisis.
The quality, in fact, is so high that one could easily mistake
this for an "evening" sale!
It is highlight by very good
paintings by Wayne Thiebaud, Hans Hofmann, and Jean Dubuffet,
and interesting works by Marlene Dumas, Cecily Brown, Maurizio
Cattelan, Lee Krasner, Theodore Stamos, Susan Rothenberg, Jitish
Kallat, David Atmejd, John Chamberlain, Frank Stella, Adolph Gottlieb,
Nancy Graves, Manolo Valdes, Qing Qing, Anselm Kiefer, and Richard
Lot 243 is a superb pastel
on paper by Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920) that is entitled "Three
River Bend." It measures 17 3/4 by 21 5/8 inches and is dated
2002. Thiebaud is perhaps best known for his pasty studies of
pastries in Pop Art fashion, but his best work is his stylized
landscapes of which this is an excellent example.
The catalogue provides the
"The improbable geometry
of Northern California, with its steep hills, and dramatic landscapes,
is the perfect location for the exaggeration of spatial dynamics
and investigation of the complexities of form and composition
prevalent in Thiebaud's work. After moving there in 1972, Thiebaud
became fascinated by the depiction of rural life with extreme
foreshortening and shifting perspectives. The landscapes would
thus become an ideal forum wthin which to explore the tensions
between abstraction and representation. In paintings such as Three
River Bend, Thiebaud perfectly balances representation with geometric
abstraction, and tonal sensitivity, rendering rural scenes into
vibrant aesthetic fantasies, almost Impressionistic in thei reffect."
The lot has a modest estimate
of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $374,500 including the
buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
The auction was quite successful
with a more than 85 percent of the offered lots selling for a
total of $44,062,875, which exceeded the pre-sale high estimate
The auction has several works
by Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), of which the best is Lot 111, "L'Objet,"
a 1950 oil on canvas that measures 50 by 40 inches. It is one
of three fine Hofmanns consigned to the auction from the collection
of Mary Schiller Myers and Louis B. Myers.
The work, the catalogue entry
maintains, brilliantly matches "a sumptuous concert of color
with an astute cognizance for compositional harmony." "While
the intense hues and direct manipulation of paint reference Fauvism,
the geometric and architectural rigor of L'Objet also acknowledges
an arc of influence encompassing the Ophism of Robert and Sonia
Delaunay, the Cubism of Braque and Picasso and the seminal facets
of Cézanne's landscapes. Indeed, L'Objet skillfully
conflates the Cubist and Fauvist affinities that predominated
throughout Hofmann's career, while ultimately asserting an entirely
unique artistic idiom....Hofmann's art emerged from the most scupulous
and ceerbral theoretical enquiry, rooted in his life-long and
prounded engagement with the philosophy of aesthetics. For over
thirty years he had been an exteraordinarily influential teacher,
leading Clement Greenberg to surmise that 'Hans Hofmann is in
all probability the most important art teacher of our time."
The lot has a modest estimate
of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $446,500.
Hofmann's students included
many famous painters of Abstract Expressionism and Lot 117, "Flaming
Nucleus," by Lot 114, "Untitled No. 2," show that
Hofmann was quite adept of expressionistically swirling bold colors
about his canvases.
The former measures 50 by 40
inches and was painted in 1962 and the later measures 24 by 20
inches and was painted in 1960. The former has a modest estimate
of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $254,500. Lot 114
has a conservative estimate of $90,000 to $120,000. It sold
The catalogue's commentary
on "Flaming Nucleus" remarks that "Hofmann was
consumed with relaying the dynamics of nature as color and depth
on the picture plane. This majestic painting fully exploits the
raw potency and unmatched symbolism of the color red and enunciates
Hofmann's proclamation that 'There has to be openenss in creation
brought back to two-dimensionality. Expansion from the inside
makes the work....one must have the sensation as if the painting
Another superb work from the
Myers collection is Lot 120, "Arbration II," by Jean
Dubuffet (1901-1985), one of his delightful and very colorful
white, black, and red polyurethane sculptures. It is 27 1/2 inches
high and was created in 1971. It has a conservative estimate of
$150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $326,500.
Lot 124 is another wonderful
Dubuffet from the Myers Collection, "Bon Pronostic,"
an acrylic on canvas that measures 28 3/4 by 36 1/4 inches. Painted
i 1975, it has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold
Lot 182 is an excellent acrylic
collage by Dubuffet entitled "Habitat urbain." Consigned
by the estate of Grace E. Hokin of Chicago, it measures 29 5/8
by 27 3/8 inches and was created in 1979. It has a modest estimate
of $70,000 to $90,000. It sold for $188,500.
Lot 457, "Ich Halte Alle
IndienIn Meiner Hand," by Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945) is an oil,
emulsion, acrylic lead, wire, wood, clay, plaster and charcoal
on canvas. It measures 75 by 112 inches and was executed in 2004.
It has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $602,500.
One of the most dramatic paintings
in the auction is Lot 461, "Buddha with Bamboo," by
Susan Rothenberg (b. 1945). An oil on canvas, it measures 55 7/8
by 113 1/4 inches and was painted in 1988. It is a very, very
bold composition with a very beautiful but limited palette and
one of the artist's finest creations. It has a very conservative
estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $122,500.
Lot 127 is a steel sculpture
by Anthony Caro (b. 1924) entitled "Writing Piece 'Well'."
It is 23 1/4 inches long and was created in 1979. It has an estimate
of $30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $35,000.
Lot 278 is a wonderful black
egg ink and ochre tempera on paper by David Smith (1906-1965).
Smith is the famous sculptor and like Henry Moore his small paintings
and drawings are as fine as most of his famous sculptures and
vastly underpriced. In this regard, these two artists are like
Louis Comfort Tiffany and Edward Steichen who were extremely adept
in different disciplines. Here the ochre tempera scrawls are like
coats of armor for his valiant army. It has a modest estimate
of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $25,000.
Lot 394 is a fine oil on canvas
by Marlene Dumas (b. 1953) that is entitled "Evil Eye."
It measures 79 by 39 1/2 inches and was painted in 1995-7. It
has a modest estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for
Lot 393 is a very good variation
of dejeuners in the countryside by Giorgione and Manet by Cecily
Brown (b. 1969). Entitled "Figures in a Garden," is
an oil on linen that measures 48 by 60 inches and was executed
in 2006. It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold
Lot 365 is a pair of taxidermied
hares with plasic eyes, a 1996 work by Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960).
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"Translating as 'Richard
the Lionheart," the work's title takes the name of the twelfh
century warrior king of England whose fearsome miliary and political
achievements were paid for with horrific medieval brutality and
bloodshed. Cattelan's designation of this pair of helpless creatures
thus strikes an absurd parody of their supposedly soft and cuddly
sterotype, and continues the artist's career-long interrogration
of semiotics and the associative power of labels."
The lot has a modest estimate
of $180,000 to $250,000. It sold for $218,500.
Lot 145 is a painted stainless
steel sculpture by John Chamberlain (b. 1927) with the marvelous
title of"Twophssted." It is startingly simple by Chamberlain's
standards and very effective. It measures 15 1/2 by 42 1/4 by
25 inches and was created in 1989. It has an estimate of $150,000
to $200,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 125 is an excellent bronze
sculpture by Nancy Graves (1940-1995) entitled "Variability
and Repetition" that is almost like an Alexander Calder on
steroids and LSD. It is 61 1/2 inches high and was created in
1979. It has a modest estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold
Lot 342, "The New North,"
is a scraggly abominable snowman-type sculpture by David Atmejd
(b. 1974) that is 145 inches high and made out of wood, foam,
expandable foam, magic-sculpt, magic-smooth, epoxy, glue, mirror,
horse hair, quartz crystals and wire. It came into being in 2007.
It has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $254,500.
The catalogue's description
gets to the point:
"Double the size of an
average man, David Atmejd's The New North is a compellingly
industrious fusion of painted flesh, fur, bristly colored stalactites,
mirror and quartz. This authoritationve figure inherently possesses
a formable presence, conveyed not only by scale, but due to the
shallow voids that imbibe its persona....Rather than representing
death, Atlmejd's Giants represents something otherworldy,
and within its corporation abstraction, the grotesque becomes
transcendental....The veritable showstopper in the 2007 Venice
Biennale, the present twork was Atlmejd's first foray after the
stunnning success of the show."
Lot 104 is a fine early oil
on canvas by Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974) done when he was interested
in biomorphic Surrealist motifs. An oil on canvas, it is called
"A Palette of Imagery" and measures 28 by 36 inches.
It was painted in 1944. and was once in the collection of the
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foiundation. It has an estimate of $150,000
to $200,000. It sold for $152,500.
Lot 189 is an estremely bright
work by Theodoros Stamos (1922-1997) entitled "Twin Sun Box."
An oil on canvas, it easures 48 by 72 inches and was painted in
1965. Although stylistically itis reminiscent a bit of some of
Adolph Gottlieb's oeuvre, it is quite subtle with a thin line
overthe right "sun" and a long horizontal line beneath
both suns that stops just short of the left edge of the painting.
It has a modest estimate of $80,000 to $100,000. It sold for $149,500.
Lots 188 and 192 are good acrylic
paintings on canvasboard that both measure 30 by 15 inches and
were done in 1972 by Robert Motherwell (1915-1991). The former
has a modest estimate of $30,000 to $60,000 and the latter has
an estimate of $40,000 to$60,000. Lot 188 sold for $92,500.
Lot 192 sold for $108,100.
A larger and more dramatic
acrylic by Motherwell is Lot 194, "Summer Seaside Night."
It measures 72 5/8 by 84 5/8 inches and was painted in 1974. It
has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $494,500.
Lot 225 is an interesting and
highly textured abstraction by Richard Serra (b. 1939) that is
a paintstick on paper. It measures 38 inches square and was drawn
in 2007. It has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold
Lot 445 is an untitled work
by Qing Qing (b. 1953) that resembles some beautiful, diaphonous
dress. Created in 2005 of organic fibers and dried flowers, it
measures 59 1/4 by 55 3/8 inches. It has an estimate of $25,000
to $35,000. It sold for $31,250.
Lot 446 is an impressive work
by Huang Gang (b. 1961) entitled "Star, Star (Two Works)."
In two parts of acrylic, enamel and Tibetan printing blocks, each
part 78 1/4 inches square, the work was executed in 2007. It has
an estimate of $70,000 to $100,000. It sold for $86,500.
Lot 143 is a Robert Rauschenberg
(1925-2008) from the Myers collection that is entitled "Foot
Note [Analgram (a pun)]." A vegetable dye transfer on polylaminate,
it measures 60 by 45 inches and was created in 1997. It has an
estimate of $250,000 to $450,000. It sold for $746,500.
Lot 149 is a dramatic painting
by R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) entitled "Starting a War."
An oil on canvas, it measures 84 by 36 inches and was painted
1980-1. It has an estimate of $80,000 to $100,000. It sold
Lot 196 is a very delicate
and elegant colored pencil and oil crayon on paper by David Hockney
(b. 1937). It measures 16 3/4 by 13 3/4 inches and was drawn in
1970. It has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for
One of the most striking paintings
in the auction is Lot 401, "Perfil," by Manolo Valdes
(b. 1942). An oil on burlap, it measures 58 by 60 inches and was
painted in 1997. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It
sold for $386,500.
Jitish Kallat (b. 1974) is
an artist from Mumbai who often puts bronze "gargoyles"
at the bottom of his large canvas to prop them up against a wall.
Lot 335, "Dawn Chorus 17," is a good example of his
work and shows two streetchildren of Mumbai with their hair "a
visual cacophony of figures, buildings and cars, stylistially
reminiscent of the frenzied Hourloup's of Jean Dubuffet,"
according to the catalogue, which also notes that the gargoyles
are inspired by sculptures on the top of the Victoria Teminus
train station in Mumbaui. The lot has an estimate of $120,000
to $180,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 356, "Homeless Lamp,
the Juice Sucker," by Ivan Navarro consisits of fluorescent
tubes, electric cables, video documentation of performance. It
measures 46 by 68 by 28 1/2 inches and is number 3 of edition
of 3. It was created in 2004 and has an estimate of $30,000 to
$40,000. It sold for $31,250.
Lot 303 is two overlapping
compositions "Dynamic/Static; Red/Green," that are color
photographs with vinyl paint by John Baldessari (b. 1931). The
two parts measure 90 by 106 3/4 inches overall and the work was
done in 1990. It ha an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It
sold for $554,500.
Lot 235 isa angled flurorescent
akyd on canvas by Frank Stella (b. 1936) that is titled "Bampur."
It measures 39 3/4 by 54 inches and was painted in 1966. It has
an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $242,500.